(Carles Puigdemont, the President of Catalonia, a province in Spain. Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons.)
Protests rage in Catalonia, a region in northeast Spain, over a referendum that would grant the region independence. The Spanish government has declared the Catalonian referendum illegal, a right that the constitution of Spain allows them. However, the Catalonian government did pass legislation and work through its own autonomous political processes to set up the referendum. While the Spanish government claims Catalonia has no constitutional right to the referendum, Catalonia’s government claims Spain uses the law to deny its citizens the right to self-determination.
Spain has a history of regionalism and autonomy. The Basque region in the northwest of Spain also pushed for independence. One of Europe’s most infamous terrorist groups, the ETA, fought for Basque independence from Spain. Catalonia previously held a referendum in 2015 that went in favor of independence–though there was a very low turnout. Polls suggest that most Catalonians favor holding a referendum, but that support for independence is split and declining.
The protesters are not just marching for a referendum, but also for the release of Catalan politicians who were arrested for facilitating the illegal referendum. While the protests started out peaceful, now things appear to have escalated, with protesters and police clashing in some spots. Over 700 mayors in Catalonia may have to answer to charges from the Spanish government. Catalonia’s President, Carles Puigdemont, was so incensed that he called the police action a “worrying return to the fall of democracy in Spain.” Puigdemont is upset about arrests, the shutdown of the referendum, and Spanish governmental interference in Catalonia going so far as to seize the province’s finances in order to prevent it from spending money on setting up a referendum.
A good portion of Catalonians want independence from Spain for reasons cultural, economic, and political. Culturally, Catalonia does have its own language–though very close to Spanish, and its own history as a kingdom separate from Spain. Economically, Catalonia is one of Spain’s industrial centers, providing 1/6th of the country’s population and even more of its production. Some Catalonians believe that the province gives more to the Spanish government than it gets back. However, it is unclear if that is really true as Catalonia has more advanced infrastructure than other parts of Spain. Politically, some Catalonians would like the option to detach from the Spanish government so they can make their own legislation.
A good portion of Catalonians do not want independence for similar reasons of shared cultural and economic bonds as well. On top of that, Catalonia does have its own political autonomy within the Spanish government.
Whether or not Catalonia votes in favor of independence, it appears the region will not rest until there is at least a referendum. For many Spanish and Catalonian people, the debate now is as much about democracy and law as it is about independence and autonomy.